Season of Prayer – Pastor’s Blog
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without this experience, they would flounder as followers of Christ. Their faith would end dogmatically sound but charismatically dead. And who wants that?
Join us in our own season of prayer as we seek to track, through the ten days from Ascension to Pentecost (18th-28th May), the waiting expectation of those early believers. Our theme is ‘Thirsting for God’. Our hope is to meet the spiritual dryness of our land with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Sunday 28 May
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
Read Acts 2
The Holy Spirit is a person, to be sure. We make a grave mistake when we refer to the Spirit as an ‘it’ rather than a ‘thou’. Nevertheless, Luke is reminding us here in these opening verses of chapter 2 that however personal the Holy Spirit is, the third person of the trinity no less, he is not tameable. The images used to describe the Spirit’s arrival into the upper room are elemental: wind and fire. And it’s no gentle breeze we are talking about, no reflective silence, that attends the prayer meeting on that first Pentecost, but the sound of a violent wind from heaven that filled the whole house. For comfortable suburbanites like us, such noise might prove a little disturbing perhaps – a little unsettling. Pentecost might feel like a rude interruption into our otherwise safe environment. But that’s the point. The Holy Spirit may want to comfort you, but he most definitely does not want to cocoon you. At some point he will want to lift you off your seat and set you ablaze. Watch out.
Prayer: O God of burning, cleansing flame, send the fire. Your blood-bought gift today we claim, send the fire today. Amen.
Saturday 27 May
“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Read Ezekiel 36:1-27
There’s a difference between outward observance and inner compulsion; just as there is a difference between a minor operation and major heart surgery. What this prophecy announces is both: a heart of flesh to replace a heart of stone, which enables an inner desire – beyond mere duty – to keep the commands. According to Ezekiel, nothing less than this will do if we are to live a life of faith. Cleansing from sin is one thing. It’s wonderful. But what we also need is the power of the Spirit to move us forward. As we come to Pentecost, let us both celebrate and activate this new covenant promise.
Prayer: Lord, thank you that in calling me to live a holy life you gave me a new heart and a new spirit. Please move me to follow your ways.
Friday 26 May
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Read John 7:1-44
There is some debate in this announcement whether the rivers of living water flow out of our inmost being, or his – that is, Jesus’ – inmost being. Either way, it makes little difference. The main thing is that our thirst is quenched by Jesus. In Jerusalem, actual water is supplied by the Gihon spring which enters into the city via Hezekiah’s tunnel. In contrast to the stagnant waters that gather in broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13), this rushing, living water symbolises life, vitality and dependency. And on the last and greatest day of the Feast, when Israel remembers God’s plenitude in the wilderness, Jesus urged the crowds, as he urges us, to come to him and drink.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I’m tired of drinking from broken cisterns. Let me hear the sound of your rushing water and satisfy my thirst.
Thursday 25 May
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Read: Isaiah 43
Back in January I visited the Holy Land. Towards the end of my stay, I spent a couple of days in the terrain that the prophet is referring to here: an arid wilderness where the likelihood of finding water is very remote. The wadis are, by definition, dry valleys. One time I was there, however, many years ago, the rains had fallen, and that same desert had quite literally transformed. Streams of water rushed through the wadi; flowers appeared all over the hillsides; and what was hitherto barren had suddenly sprung to life. Indeed, the river was so powerful, we needed to form a human chain of about a dozen young people in order to cross it. It was an adventure to be sure, but it was also a metaphor, in much the same way as Isaiah describes here, of what God wants to do in our own barren land.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I don’t mind doing the same old things, but couldn’t you, once in a while, do this new thing among us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see our dry weary land transform?
Wednesday 24 May
As the deer pants for the water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
Read Psalm 42
None of us like the feeling of oppression. To be mocked, as David is here, and to feel overwhelmed by one’s own doubts, let alone the accusations of others, is a very disturbing experience. But however unpleasant these times in the wilderness are, one thing they almost always do is cultivate a longing for God. Like the hunted deer who arrives at the stream literally panting for water, so our own troubles can transform our dainty spiritual thirsts into an urgency. Meeting with God is no longer a hobby – an option that we can take or leave – but a matter of life and death.
Prayer: I dare to thank you for the times I am away from the throng of the festive crowds, because it is only when I am on the run that I thirst for you.
Tuesday 23 May
The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’
And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Read Revelation 22
We were reminded on Sunday evening of a scene in The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis where Jill is thirsty for a drink from the stream but is prevented by her fear of the Lion who stands nearby. She daren’t drink, even though the Lion invites her to come; but if she doesn’t drink, she will likely die of thirst. In the end she decides her desire for the water is greater than her fear of the Lion, so she went forward to the steam, knelt down, and scooped up the water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. ‘You didn’t need to drink much of it,’ said Lewis, ‘for it quenched your thirst at once.’ Could there be any better illustration of our text this morning than this delightful episode from the Narnia stories? God is indeed a Lion. He is not tame. But he is good. And he wants us to drink deeply of his love.
Prayer: All through the scriptures you keep beckoning me, ‘Come’. Keep calling me, Lord, until I too kneel down and drink.
Monday 22 May
‘Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Read: Isaiah 55:1-5
I was reading an article the other day about a top celebrity. They had everything that money could buy, not to mention fame, and still they were unhappy. And I thought to myself, ‘Well, of course. These things cannot satisfy.’ In fact, the more you have, the more you seem to want. Our wants are insatiable.
Knowing this truth about our sorry state and knowing how vulnerable we are to the advertisers pull, the prophet Isaiah issues an invitation to put aside our striving, and come instead to God. The water he offers reaches parts that other waters cannot reach. Indeed, the table he sets satisfies the very deepest places of our soul. His bread is not junk food but real food, just as his water is living grace. And the reason it’s free is because the price has been paid. His is the price, ours the freeness.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your sacrifice for sins. Thank you also that you offer up a feast for our delight. Help us to partake without shame, fear, or rush.
Sunday 21 May
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Read Matthew 5:1-10
It’s very easy to think about spiritual thirsting in charismatic/Pentecostal ways: we thirst for more of the Spirit; we want more power; more signs and wonders; and more intimacy with God. In the Beatitudes, however, the thirst takes on an ethical dimension: the blessedness that comes when you not only thirst but hunger for righteousness. And as much as that is a statement about personal holiness, it is also a prayer for societal justice – a cry that God will right what is wrong and establish his kingdom in our midst. If we thirst for this, Jesus says, we will be satisfied. In other words, we will see something of what our hearts long for. Furthermore, we will discover that this cry for justice (both now and in the world to come) is not at odds with signs and wonders, any more than it is at odds with personal renewal, but a natural companion.
Prayer: O God, deliver us from self-righteousness, but satisfy our thirst for your righteousness in the world. Come, Lord Jesus. Heal our land.
Saturday 20 May
You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
Read Psalm 63
If ever there was a phrase that describes the spiritual state of our times, it is v1 of this Psalm: a dry and weary land where there is no water. When you live in it all the time, I guess you just get used to it. It becomes normal. But once you get wind of the fact that we are made for so much more, then something like a yearning opens up inside, something like a thirst that only God can satisfy. Augustine wonders whether it’s deliberate on God’s part. ‘Thou hast put salt on our lips,’ he prayed, ‘so that we might thirst for thee.’
As David’s prayer continues, the sensuality of these opening lines intensifies. It becomes a study in contrasts. The mouths of liars will be stopped, but with singing lips our mouths will praise God. And it’s not just our thirst that is satisfied, but our hunger too.
Prayer: I thank you, Lord, that this spiritually arid time that I am living in is more than met by a fresh draught of your grace. O Lord, hear my cry.
Friday 19 May
‘…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
Read John 4:1-42
I have been to Jacob’s well. It is in modern day Nablus. Given its historical importance, a church was built on the site. But despite all the religiosity (as well as the souvenir shop), it still retains its authenticity. Mount Gerazim is just above, and the well, as the Samaritan woman said to Jesus, is very deep. It takes about twenty seconds for a coin to reach the bottom. So how was Jesus going to draw water to give to the woman? But then Jesus wasn’t talking about actual water. He was offering the woman living water, a result of which she would never thirst again. Given the complexity of her life thus far, her thirst for intimacy in particular, I imagine that was a very attractive offer (even if her initial reaction was evasive). Like all of us, she came to realise that day, by the well, that we have certain thirsts that only Jesus can quench. Jacob represents religion; Jesus is life. And to receive the water he gives is like having an artesian well right at the centre of your being, bubbling up to eternal life.
Prayer: Help me to draw upon the living water that you have placed inside me, rather than the dull stagnant pools of our weary world.
Thursday 18 May
The Lord says to my lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.’
As we begin this season of prayer on what is also Ascension Day, I am bound to reflect on Psalm 110. For obvious reasons, it is the most often quoted Psalm in the New Testament because it points, of course, to the exaltation of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God the Father. Every time I pray this Psalm, I am also struck by the image in v3 of line upon line of young men and women, their armour glistening like the early morning dew as they await orders in battle. It’s a vision of spiritual vitality, inspired by a confidence that if Jesus is on the throne, then victory is assured, no matter how fierce the battle. Indeed, this is why the Priest-King is able to pause for refreshment in the final verse. Yes, the times are urgent, but not so urgent that he has to hurry. Such is his poise that he is able to pause in the heat of battle to drink beside the brook. May we thus pause over the next days to find spiritual refreshment.
Prayer: I thank you Lord that the kingdoms of this world will indeed become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ. Until such time, keep us ever refreshed in your love.